Sometime last week, I caught up with the co-founder of WhipCar, Tom Wright, to find out more about his entrepreneurial journey especially how he started WhipCar, his second company.
Before WhipCar, Tom founded gurgle.com, a social network focused around pregnancy which before launch became a joint venture with Mothercare and was later acquired.
Hi Tom, great to have you on YHP, How are you doing?
Great, thanks for having me.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I am 32, married and have two children, Thella and Huck.
I grew up in Tenby, a small but beautiful seaside town in South Wales. I have two older sisters and two younger brothers. We are an overly competitive family.
How did you get into business?
I was working at BSkyB in my mid-twenties and decided to leave and create a social network shaped around pregnancy, called gurgle.com. I left my job, raised funding and built a team to create the site. Just before we launched, it became a joint venture with Mothercare who subsequently acquired the business.
Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
Our family have owned and run Tenby’s best hotel, The Fourcroft for three generations. My summer job was as a porter, waiter and barman. All of my siblings and cousins worked there at various times and we each learned first-hand the power of providing great service.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
My grandfather, he has an amazing moral compass.
What was the inspiration behind WhipCar? How did the idea come about?
Vinay, WhipCar’s co-founder, and I were chatting in a café in Soho. The street was clogged with parked cars. We did some research and found out that the average car is driven less than 5 hours a week. We both felt it was an idea that should exist.
So Tom, what is WhipCar? What are you guys are trying to solve?
We believe WhipCar provides an altogether better way for people to use a car. Allowing expensive idle assets to be utilized has enormous financial, environmental and community benefits, whether you’re a car owner or need to rent one.
What were you doing before you founded WhipCar?
I was working at an Investment fund, where I met Vinay. We started working on WhipCar in early 2009.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
We were the world’s first peer-to-peer car rental service, and still the only one in the UK, so we’ve been establishing a brand new behaviour. We also needed investors who could see the opportunity. Lots of people have followed us into the space, but in 2009 people thought this was a pretty weird idea.
How have you been able to fund WhipCar?
We raised money from Delta Partners in October 2009.
Getting investments is always such a hot topic, how were you able to get such great investors onboard?
Lots of preparation and a good team. We worked on WhipCar full time from March 2009.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Continual product development, great customer service and deliberately slow, hyper local growth. This is a hard sell in an age of instant scale, but we’ve learnt so much since we launched in April 2010 and we believe it’ll pay dividends.
How were you able to get traction in the first few months of launch?
We launched with just a flyer, which we distributed in Maida Vale, North London. As the first service of its kind in the world, we had a great story. We went national almost immediately and within 6 months we had 1000 cars in our fleet.
There are some many car services springing up, how do you stay relevant and competitive?
We were the first and we’ve had time to learn and continually improve. We believe we’ve got the best product around. We are still the company doing what we do in the UK, and globally we’re the biggest and most mainstreamed.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
We’re currently working on the eighth version of our product!
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Building a great team, receiving feedback from great customers and getting a great product live. We have created a sector – we thought it should exist and now it does.
What can we be expecting from WhipCar in 2012?
A new website, mobile apps and lots more.
What is the future of the Car rental industry?
It’s a great time for innovation. The convergence between manufacturers, rental companies, car clubs and vehicle leasing will massively change how people own and access cars. The possibilities are enormous as cars become more connected.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Before spending any money, share your idea with as many people as possible. Listen to them.
2. Buy (and read) The Lean StartUp by Eric Reis
3. Have fun.